Let’s Not Be Mindless About….Mulch

Today I start a new meme. For those of you not familiar with the concept of “memes” they’re just fancy words for themes or topics in the blogosphere.

This all started because I was thinking (always dangerous–bad idea. I don’t recommend thinking any more than necessary if you can avoid it!) about all the garden writers who just blindly recommend mulch. And some blindly recommend a lot of mulch. The more mulch the better. 3-4 inches of mulch.

Well, you know what folks? As with everything in life, not everyone should mulch!

If you’ve read this column for years, you must have heard me say I don’t know how many times that I have really heavy and wet clay soil. Well guess what? If I mulch, I wind up with rotting plants, particularly in the early spring. I wind up with all kinds of fungal diseases. I wind up with slug and even snails.

Still telling me to put down 3-4″ of mulch, you fools?

Well, of course not! But no where, ever, do I see a disclaimer like this! And do you know how much of our country has clay soils?!

Now, with all of the drought going on, I will be the first to tell you that we must do something to conserve water in any way possible. But for a woman who never–and I repeat never waters her gardens because of her water table and her icky wet soil, drought is rarely something I worry about.

Even when I bemoan the drought in my region and my own gardens, do I water? No! Because I have planted appropriate plants, or I have made other provisions (but that’s a different story we can discuss some other time).

So, all of this being said, how do I keep the weeds out of my gardens? My main way is close planting–in other words, space my plants very closely so that they shade the soil and don’t allow weeds to gain a foothold. It works well in some places, not so well in others.

One technique I have used in the past are things like short-lived perennials. The one I am thinking of in particular is forget me nots (myosotis). They come up very early in the spring, they spread out quickly, carpeting the ground and blooming in a lovely shade of blue, and then they’re pretty much gone by the time my “main season” perennials fill in.

Call it a “living mulch” if you will.

What it is not is a cover crop. It’s not so labor intensive and it does not require the soil disruption that a cover crop does. I am no fan of those. Perhaps I’ll do a rant on those someday.

So the takeaway here? Mulch is fine and dandy for the average homeowner (please–no sprayed and died ground up pallets if you don’t want airborne or other fungi all over the garden. Please use real mulches!) But if you have soil that is wet–stay away from the mulch! Find a different solution. Your garden will thank you!

2 thoughts on “Let’s Not Be Mindless About….Mulch

  1. michele March 11, 2014 / 10:28 pm

    Karla, you have made my year! I have clay but I hate those scratchy, ugly messes sold as ground cover. I, too, use green cover plants & I have been planting closer together than recommended since my very first garden. I spread my compost every spring & take it from there. I thought I was the only one & kept it to myself- a sort of garden shame. Thanks for liberating me!!

    • gardendaze March 12, 2014 / 7:02 am

      Oh, Michele, I’m glad I could help. But always remember one of my favorite sayings: if we all liked the same thing, we’d have a really boring world.

      At the end of the month, you’ll see the ugliest, most overgrown juniper you’ve ever seen. I try not to look at it too much. The post will give you the whole story about why it’s there, but it feeds my birds & they nest there.

      So really, who am I to care what the rest of the world thinks about it, right?

      Meanwhile, we non-mulchers have to stand proud! You go, Michele!


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